I was looking at some of Paula's lovely embroidery over at The Beauty of Life this morning and it inspired me to do a little research on the Royal School of Needlework (because I would definitely need to take some of their classes if I ever wanted to be able to do embroidery myself!).
The Royal School of Needlework was founded in 1872 by Princess Helena, Queen Victoria's daughter and wife of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein in order to preserve the art of hand embroidery and needlework that was disappearing in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Not surprisingly, William Morris played a significant role in establishing the school, as did his daughter May and friend Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Morris was hired by the Royal School of Needlework to create some of the first designs used by the school.
The school started out small on Sloane street with space for only about 20 students. By 1903 the school had grown to 150 students and moved to Exhibition Road, close to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The school has been at Hampton Court Palace since 1987 and now features fine views of the Palace gardens (thanks, Wikipedia). Although day classes are offered, the school continues to train young people between the ages of 18 and 26 (alas, I will be too old next year to attend!) with a 3-year apprenticeship in design and all embroidery techniques. Apprentices also learn teaching skills and gain experience in the professional workrooms, which undertake many original commissions and restorations. Beth Russell of Designers Forum, whose designs I constantly recommend on this blog, is probably the most famous student of the school. She's also the reason that I know about the Royal School of Needlework. I read her books religiously (they contain a lot of Arts and Crafts philosophy and history) and she mentions the RSN in several of her books. It sounded like a paradise for fans of handcrafts!
Tracy Franklin is also RSN trained, and her embroidery work is positively stunning. She has published a number of books on embroidery, including a beautiful book on goldwork, New Ideas in Goldwork(she has also written on whitework and advanced embroidery techniques).
Today the Royal School of Needlework has an archive of over 30,000 images covering every period of British history. There are also over 5,000 textile pieces, including 1,000 pieces of lace, plus silkwork, whitework, Jacobean embroidery and many other forms of embroidery and needlework.
The Royal School of Needlework offers "embroidery classes for everyone in the beautiful surroundings of Hampton Court Palace." I will definitely setting some time aside to take one of the RSN classes next time I'm in London! (Perhaps something flashy like goldwork on canvas!). If you happen to be visiting in London, and have some extra time on your hands, try taking one of the day classes available at the school.
Here's what the Royal School of Needlework has to say about their embroidery classes:
In small, friendly class groups with highly skilled and experienced tutors learn to work traditional techniques and discover the subtlety of embroidery and its potential as an art form. The classes are all practical “hands-on” stitching.
One, two or three day Classes are held regularly throughout the year at weekends and on week days during the Easter and summer vacations. Classes cover a wide range of techniques including design and painting.
Class Times: 10.00 am to 4.00pm, with lunch from 1.00pm to 2.00pm
Refreshments: Morning coffee break at about 11.10am. Tea, coffee and soft drinks provided. Bring your own lunch to eat at the RSN or in fine weather picnic in the gardens. The Palace Coffee Shop and Tiltyard Restaurant are available for meals and snacks.
Materials: Designs and packs of materials are provided for all classes. The cost of these kits is additional to the class fee and varies depending on the technique. Kit costs range from approximately £12.00 to £35.00 and the more expensive kits contain metal threads.
Please see the Royal School of Needlework's website for more details
Photo courtesy of Tracy Franklin's website